Homeowners often get familiar with taking on a few home improvement projects. Painting a child’s room, finding wall studs to hang art, and fixing a leaky sink are all part of the love and work you put into your home. Other times, though, a project is too big to tackle alone. Dealing with plumbing and electricity can get complicated quickly, so homeowners often turn to the pros for a major renovation like a kitchen remodel.
The question is, how do you know who will give you quality work, set fair prices, and understand your vision for your space? Hiring a kitchen contractor or designer is a skill unto itself. Finding the right people to work with can bring you closer to the best version of your home.
Should You Hire a Kitchen Contractor or Designer?
First off, decide which kind of professional assistance you need. Designers and contractors may share some overlap in their services, but overall they play different roles in creating a new space.
What to expect from a kitchen designer
A designer’s main role is to plan a home renovation project. If you know you want a change, but the creative vision or painstaking math (or both) of designing a new layout doesn’t come easily, a designer is your new best friend.
Expect a designer to help guide the style, plan layout, and recommend materials that harmonize into a kitchen that matches your taste. You can either hire an independent designer certified by the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) or often pay a small fee for a design consultation through a home improvement store.
Expect a certified kitchen designer to come equipped with years of experience and the expertise to plan a new layout as well as recommend style and materials. An independent designer’s fees will often represent about 8-10% of project costs, so budget accordingly.
Home improvement stores, especially stores specializing in kitchen cabinets and fixtures, may have an in-house designer. This designer’s fees may be much lower, but the designer is navigating a line between sales rep and designer. Expect them to recommend their own products. There may also be more variation in experience, meaning some designers may not be able to plan a dramatically different layout.
What to expect from a contractor
A contractor’s primary area of expertise is sourcing materials and completing the work to build your new kitchen. Some contracting firms may have a designer on the team, and many experienced contractors have enough experience to offer an opinion on materials. Often, though, skipping directly to a contractor means the big design decisions are up to you.
Expect a contractor to provide materials (and help you narrow down your last few options to suit your preferences). Consider whether they are licensed and if they will take care of any permits you need, and make sure they carry insurance against accidents.
Contractors’ fees are typically in the range of 10-20% of your total renovation cost. The more involved the project is, and the higher liability there is for workers, the greater the percentage a contractor is likely to charge.
Financing for a designer and contractor
Altogether, a designer and contractor’s services are likely to make up at least 18% and as much as 30% of your kitchen renovation cost. If your kitchen remodel budget is $25,000, you may spend $7,500 on fees for these professionals.
Balancing your budget is as important as checking your contractor’s background and the designer’s portfolio. Before you sign a work contract, finalize your own plans to have funds handy at invoice time.
Some homeowners will find that a loan – either an unsecured loan like a personal loan, or a secured loan like a HELOC – serves their needs. Others may worry about the impact of extra debt on their monthly budget. Drawing funds from home equity can be a better option for some homeowners than taking a loan. An interest-free Home Value agreement like Noah’s offers additional flexibility by not requiring a traditional monthly repayment structure. Remodeling your kitchen can be an expensive and time-consuming project, so some homeowners appreciate being able to focus on one financial goal at a time.
Steps Before Hiring a Kitchen Contractor or Designer
Not all contractors and designers are equal, and even an experienced professional might not be the right fit for a particular project. The adage, “measure twice, cut once” can apply to considering your options before committing to working with a particular person or firm, too.
For both designers and contractors, word of mouth can be the most powerful search tool. If you have friends whose taste you admire, or a family member just finished a big renovation, ask for recommendations. You can cut hours of research by getting a lead on a pro who aligns with your design preferences.
You can also find designers by visiting showrooms, looking through the NKBA directory or other professional organizations for interior design, or searching for local kitchen design studios. You can find contractors on sites like Angie’s List, craftsmen’s guilds, or sometimes by asking around at home improvement stores.
Questions for designers
Questions to check that a designer fits your style and approach to home design include:
- What design certification do you have?
- Can I see your portfolio?
- Which home design styles are some of your favorites to work with (contemporary, traditional, shabby chic, eclectic, etc.)?
- Can I share a Pinterest board or other collection of my favorite inspirations?
- How do your fees work?
- How much contact do you expect to have with clients, and how much do you do independently after discussing initial plans?
- Will I get final approval on product use?
Questions for contractors
A few questions that can help you narrow down choices for the contractors that work best for you are the following:
- Are you licensed?
- Are you and any subcontractors fully insured?
- Will you take care of any permits needed to complete the work?
- What are the payment options and your price estimate?
- What timeline do you estimate for the job?
- What happens if you can’t get materials I choose?
- How do you prefer to communicate with clients throughout a project?
Make a Plan for Your Remodel
Once you’ve decided which professionals will make up your team, talk together about what your new kitchen will look like. Depending on the scope of your renovation plan, you may need to finalize materials and design plans for any of all of the following:
- Countertops (material, any additions)
- Cabinets (custom vs. pre-made)
- Backsplash (finalize colors, materials)
- Appliances (fridge, oven, microwave — which needs to be replaced, finalize models and delivery schedule)
- Layout (discuss any plumbing or electrical considerations if moving appliances)
- Lighting (overhead, wall lighting, under cabinet lighting, etc.)
- Fixtures and finishing touches (faucets, sink, custom cabinet or drawer handles, etc.)
Having the right team is just as important as having the right tools to make a home renovation project go smoothly. Setting aside time, attention, and budget for designers and contractors can make all the difference for your kitchen remodel.